"There are cameras for other means of transport but not for taxis," said Khalid Alvi, a cabdriver for All City Cab Co. who came armed with a printout displaying a camera that could be placed in the back seat, pending the taxi commission's approval.
"No neighborhood is a bad neighborhood," Alvi said. "People can be bad anywhere."
Ron Blount, president of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania, questioned whether "a camera alone is going to do it." He suggested also installing panic buttons that are linked to the Philadelphia Police Department and a GPS tracker that shows the vehicle's position for police to intercept.
Blount recalled a driver whose passenger pointed a shotgun at the back of his head while he drove near 30th Street Station. The driver silently connected with the dispatcher, who responded, "Are you OK?"
"There was nothing he could say; he had a shotgun to his head," said Blount. "We need some sort of protection."
Wahab Tariq, a driver whose taxi-driving relative Hafiz Sarafaraz was shot dead in West Philly in May, asked if cabbies could carry a weapon, even pepper spray.
"Drivers at night are scared," Tariq said as he fidgeted with a large, framed picture of Sarafaraz.
Ney responded: "Everything is on the table for consideration."
Besides safety, many drivers spoke of the need for a workers' compensation program, as many drivers have no other source of income when sick or injured.
Michelle Snowden, the wife of a cabdriver, spoke about how her husband couldn't work for four days after he was rear-ended on the job. The owner of the cab forced him to work despite his need for physical therapy.
"Ideally, he should have had the week off," said Snowden.
Several attendees, including PPA board member Andrew Stutzman, said the forum was a productive first step toward ensuring better working conditions for taxi drivers.
"You will see changes, I'm confident of that," Stutzman said. "I think we're going to have a safer city at the end of the day."
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